Life at Stride Treglown / Architect

Miranda McCabe

Our community initiatives are some of our most valuable work.

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I’m Miranda McCabe. I am an Architect with a conservation specialism at the London office of Stride Treglown.

I’ve worked at the London office for nearly three years now, but I’ve been with Stride Treglown since 2011. I was in the Bath office and then moved here once I’d finished my part two.

The Lambeth stride

So I’m going to take you on a walk, something I usually do at lunchtime. We’re going to walk from the Stride Treglown office in Lambeth to one of my favourite buildings.

The location that we’re in is quite special because it means that we’re part of a small community in Lambeth which is really active. The office likes to get involved with that community, something which led to us creating The Redivider in Southwark, next door to Lambeth.

The Redivider

The Redivider was an architectural installation that challenged visitors to explore emotions associated with social media by translating that digital world into a physical experience. It was a series of sliding panels within a 6.5 x 6.5 metre space and it was a person’s individual choice to find their own path through it. So you could block other people from making their path or you could create someone else’s path. It was an interactive exploration that got us involved with the community and lots of children. It was great, you’d come over and the kids would all be there messing about with the panels, running through it, laughing and screaming.

Don’t take it down!

Marlborough Sports Garden is brilliant but it’s essentially a large concrete open space. There’s nothing really to play with and I think The Redivider offered something. So when it came time for us to take it down – it was just a temporary exhibition – the school children came out for break time and they were just devastated, bless them. They all just ran over to us and were shouting, “Don’t take it down. Don’t take it down!” It was heart-breaking but really lovely to know that we’d offered the area something for that month.

The team – Tom Barstow, Irene Kalli and myself – were on site for the vast majority of the build, doing anything we could, building anything we could. For all of us, it was probably the toughest time we’ve had at work but also the best. We learnt so much about working with contractors and how things are properly detailed and how they are put together.

Inspiring the next generation

All of that time working on site links well with a lot of our other initiatives where we try and get out into the community and get our creative juices flowing. You can lose that if you’re stuck in an office all day – you need to keep active. We work a lot with Open City and their Architecture in Schools initiative. As part of that process, we go in and offer a specific lesson where we use building blocks to get children used to some space planning, understanding why certain rooms need to sit next to each other, how buildings are planned with materials and facades and how they become the buildings that you know.

These initiatives and activities are extra curricula but are actually some of our most valuable work. It keeps us involved with the community and gets us learning about new ideas and new techniques. It brings us back to fundamentals when you need it most sometimes. As soon as you start losing that, you lose your creative sparkle a bit.

Icing sugar facades 

So we’re now walking through the Pimlico area and we’re surrounded by lots of icing sugar covered Georgian town houses – they all just look like big cakes. There’s a huge amount of historic buildings here that need conserving or creative approaches to bring them in line with modern ideals. It takes some serious designers to allow these buildings to re-enter the community and become cherished again. But ultimately it is the sustainable route for us. It’s far more sustainable than building brand new skyscrapers with huge carbon footprints.

I think the idea of creative reuse is quite in vogue at the minute and I don’t know if that’s because you get lovely Instagram shots from it where you can see the differences between old and new and all those junctions? Maybe it’s because sustainability is such a strong topic at the minute that we are turning towards it? I think we’re also losing space really. We haven’t got many more areas we can build in certain cities. We’ve got to look at our existing building stock.

A meeting of minds

Along those lines, it became apparent that there were interests in creative reuse across the whole company. Stride Treglown is very good at putting people together. There’s a lot of cross-working. We move between the offices quite easily and you get to know everyone. Suddenly certain little conversations happen and you realise that people share exactly the same passions and interests as you. So things are starting to bubble and we’re getting a creative reuse thinking group together. There’s still a lot of work to do but there’s a lot of talent to nurture and to cherish within Stride Treglown already.

Best Young Architect

I’d been working in the London office for about a year and a half, I’d finished my part three and qualified as an architect in October of 2018. A couple of months later, when I was still deciding what to do with my career, an email came out of the blue from Caroline Mayes (one of our Board Directors) saying that they were looking at me as a contender for an award. It was such an exciting email to receive and slightly baffling!

Then it came through that I was a WICE Awards finalist alongside lots of other great Stride Treglown ladies – and man, John Kirkby. I think it was a month or two later we had the awards night where suddenly my face flashed up on screen as a winner – which was doubly strange! It was all really, really weird but amazing. I think it’s an incredible thing and the trophy – which is ludicrously huge – sits in our downstairs toilet, so every time I go in there I get another little surprise. It was quite exciting.

Time to reflect

Probably the best thing that happened for me was actually putting together the ten minute award presentation. Because I was in the Young Architect category, you had to talk about where you started from in your architectural career and how you got to where you are. So I spoke about being at university and wrote a timeline. It was particularly prevalent, when I wrote that down, how much of a gear change it was for me when I was told that I was dyslexic in the second year of my bachelor’s degree. Up to this point I really struggled. But once I got tested and it came out that, yes I was dyslexic, it was amazing. The amount of support I got really helped and I suddenly began to learn my individual learning methods.

Acknowledging differences

I think there’s a very stringent path in school and there’s not much scope for different learning mechanisms. Someone could be a visual learner or they could learn through listening – there are multiple different ways. That’s why the Accelerate Programme for Open City is so great. It targets children who are really at that turning point between school and university, where they’re defining their learning methods. I think a big target for us when we run the workshops is assisting the children with different ways of learning. We see what works for them and hopefully provide some support in that way.

You have reached your destination

So we’re walking over the train tracks that lead to Victoria Station. That means we are getting close to the Western Pumping Station in Chelsea which is one of my favourite buildings. I live in Battersea in London and you can get the train from Victoria. As you go down to Battersea, you see this building and its amazing roof which looks like a big fish. It’s got all these incredible copper tiles. It think it was built in 1875 and is Grade II listed. It’s got a huge tower, it was a sewage works originally with steam engines in the main building and the water tower adjoining. But it’s mostly the fish scales that I love. It’s like a rainbow has hit it. It’s all sort of peachy red at the top going down to violet at the bottom.

The past informing the future

I really like the detail and materiality of things, particularly in ceramic faiences or any kind of intricate detailing. So when I’m walking around those are the bits that attract me to buildings. You have that opportunity to look back at historic buildings and learn from their history to inform the new creative designs for them that are interesting and in keeping with their character and use.